News & Commentary, Screen, TV

Hugo Weaving: Australians are pathetically immature about their own culture

| |

Hugo Weaving speaks to Daily Review about returning to TV for ABC’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, why Australia’s cultural cringe still gives him the shits, and his ongoing involvement with Sydney Theatre Company.


It seems Hugo Weaving suffers from the affliction that affects most of us in 2017 — the extreme time-poverty which stops us from watching the ever-increasing list of high-quality TV content churned out around the world.

“I just can’t keep up anymore,” he says. “I try to go see films, I try to read as many books as I can, and try to see my friends and family and work as hard as I can. I don’t know how anyone can possibly watch every good boxset that’s made on top of all of that. I’m very behind.”

Weaving says he’s loved much of what he’s seen recently — pointing to Wolf Hall and Mad Men — although he still has a list of shows to catch up on, including Breaking Bad and The Wire.


But like many high profile actors, Weaving has recently been drawn back to TV as the so-called “Golden Age” continues and leading writers and directors explore the medium with greater curiosity.

It’s been 33 years since Weaving appeared as a fresh-faced 24-year-old newcomer, playing English cricketer Douglas Jardine in the popular Australian miniseries Bodyline. He’d already been building a successful stage career, but it was that initial TV appearance in 1984 which thrust Weaving into the public eye.

“I was immediately interested in working with the ABC.”

Since then, Weaving has made his career largely on film and on stage, but returns to TV this week with ABC’s new six-part drama, Seven Types of Ambiguity

The series, produced by Matchbox Pictures (the team behind The Slap) is based on Elliott Perlman’s psychological thriller of the same name.

“I was immediately interested in working with the ABC,” Weaving says. “I’d been talking to [producer] Tony Ayres over the years about doing something with him. When I read the script I was really keen because I immediately loved the character.”

Weaving plays psychiatrist Alex Klima, whose client Simon has been accused of kidnapping a child. Alex has great sympathy for his client and wants to prove his innocence, but is undergoing his own personal heartbreak.

In one particular scene, Alex is confronted with a devastating reality, and breaks down entirely. It’s an intense and finely wrought performance, but it does pose a question: what kind of toll does that kind of a performance take on an actor?

“In one way, you are psychically torturing yourself,” Weaving says. “Me, Hugo, is upset and crying, in every way responding as Alex might — hopefully that’s where you get to. And yet, someone says ‘cut’ and you don’t have to deal with all the responsibilities that Alex would have had to deal with at that time.

“There are releases for you as an actor — you’re not locked into the same dark place as the character, except during ‘action’ and ‘cut’. You can press the ejector button and get out of the aeroplane that’s crashing into the sea.”

Weaving says the experience of working with a great team is incredibly uplifting, and the production team behind Seven Types of Ambiguity was a big part of what drew him to the project. The three directors behind the six episodes (Glendyn Ivin, Ana Kokkinos and Matthew Saville) all have a wealth of experience in TV directing and significant feature films to their names.

“I would love to do more TV,” Weaving says. “Certainly with a piece like this, the writing is very strong, and the directors are very strong, and you have time to explore characters with considerably more depth than you might in film.”

“It feels like we’re that immature teenager at the party who thinks they’re not very important.”

While Weaving is best known for his appearances in international blockbusters such as The Matrix and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the majority of his appearances are in Australian projects.

He’s long been a champion of Australian work, but says the way we tend to look down our noses at our own art and culture gives him “the shits”.

“I have no idea why we’re so pathetically immature about our own culture. We just don’t seem to be brave enough to embrace it in any way, and I think it’s getting worse. It feels like we’re that immature teenager at the party who thinks they’re not very important and that some other people are more important because they’re bigger, making more noise and wearing more colourful shirts.”

“I thought somewhere around the mid-70s, we were starting to get over that, and then around the year 2000, we were starting to get over it again. Something about Gough Whitlam in the ’70s brought in an era of being okay with who we were, and then a similar thing happened around the Olympics — I think both those events were quite significant in our cultural development.”

But Weaving’s ongoing advocacy for Australian arts and culture doesn’t mean we should expect to see him in an official leadership role anytime soon.

“My desire to maintain a relationship with Sydney Theatre Company is absolutely still there, and I’m certainly interested in being part of a broader, less-defined group of people who might be prosecuting the company”

Rumours were circulating several years ago that Weaving had been approached to apply for the role of artistic director at Sydney Theatre Company. He’d worked extensively with the company under Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett’s artistic directorship, and says that work has continued over the last few years even if he hasn’t appeared on stage since 2015’s Endgame.

“I don’t think [the artistic director role] is something I’d do particularly well,” he says. “But it’s a wonderful family — a good group of people and a great place to work. My desire to maintain a relationship with Sydney Theatre Company is absolutely still there, and I’m certainly interested in being part of a broader, less-defined group of people who might be prosecuting the company and moving it forward in a really creative and exciting way.”

He’s also full of praise for the company’s new artistic director, Kip Williams, who directed Weaving in a 2014 production of Macbeth.

“I’m a big fan of Kip’s for lots of reasons, so it’s really exciting to me that he’s in the position — he’s including people in the company and moving forward with the support of the board.”

As for when audiences might see Weaving on stage again, he says he’s deliberately taken time off from theatre to focus on film, but that he’ll return at some point.

“Maybe next year,” he teases.


[box]Seven Types of Ambiguity is on ABC Thursdays at 8.30pm. The full series will be available to binge on iview tonight after the premiere[/box]

12 responses to “Hugo Weaving: Australians are pathetically immature about their own culture

  1. Maybe our cultural cringe has been brought on by people putting the Aussie way down..’we’re too boring and ordinary,we need too spice up our society with exciting multi-cultural immigrants and refugees’..or not.

    1. You think people want to bring refugees to Australia to spice up the place..? Not say more out of a sense of empathy perhaps? That whole fleeing warzones or persecution thing that marks them as genuine refugees..

      1. Hector I think you need to be very careful around that one. The reality is that if we didn’t have refugees, a lot of the things that you take for granted in this modern age wouldn’t exist in Australia. If it wasn’t for these people who escaped war & grinding poverty over the years. If we didn’t take in refugees, we would still only have one type of coffee freeze dried maxwell house 0r Nescafe, you will still be living on a diet of meat & three veg, and Margaret Fulton’s cook book recipes would be the greatest level of gastronomy , the housing would look the same, lack of post war imagination. Whether you like it or not even in the days during the White Australia policy, into even the early 70’s, Australia was a dull, dull place. I know because I came here from the UK, in 75. It took months for any decent music to get here from overseas.
        If it weren’t for these refugees, our food palate’s would still be back in the 70’s, & we would still be caught up in the grip of much of what was & to a degree is still really negative about Australian society, which was the tendency to be a mini UK without the class, the flair or the soul.

  2. ‘Spice up our society’??? As the old ‘Chaser’ sketch used to say, ‘this person votes’. Probably for One Nation.

  3. I think any cultural cringe comes from seeing lame films, TV etc.
    I am a proud Australian and try to support all our artists in whatever they do – but so many have limited showings which means that the bush doesn’t get to see them.
    I worked hard through the South West Arts Council to bring acts to Hillston – AND then worked to fill a bus with patrons – one play was “Upside down at the bottoms of the world”… then we had a poet doing Australian works…another bus. I forget that else, but they were good and there was NO cultural cringe.
    Can’t vouch for the cities though. Probably too much of a good thing has made them choosy.
    Make it possible for us to afford them and you will not see cultural cringe for miles.l

  4. Thank you Hugo Weaving for speaking up about this scourge. The cultural cringe in Australia persists because we are comfortable with avoiding it. As a nation it needs to be confronted like any other social, political or cultural issue. It’s about recognising and accepting our own values and embodying the meaning we create as Australians. It’s time to re-learn to believe in ourselves. The cringe conveniently holds us all back.

    1. Well said Andrew. It is so sad that this is still being continued as a nationally collective trait. The fact that Hugo is still one of the only people that seems to be brave enough to point out this collective blind spot for Australians is not only sad but also tragic, that the couple of times things were starting to lookup our population fell back into the mire of our own ambivalence, then slowly dragged back into the self excoriating habits that have plagued our society since it’s inception.

  5. I believe that Mr Weaving is absolutely accurate in his opinions, at least it seems to me to be very much as he claims. I remember sitting around in coffee lounges in the early 1970s listening to fellow actors whingeing about the importation of British and US productions, and the lack of Australian content etc. Television and much film at that time was produced under a shoestring system, and directed by inexperienced ex camera men, or people interested in photography, but with little knowledge of the theatre.

    The great nagging anxiety for me, is that the same conversations are being had today in 2017, and although many producers and directors have had a lot more experience with the technical side of film and television drama, there are still far too few who have actually studied theatre (I do not mean acquired a degree I mean studied theatre) or in some cases, even been inside one.

    Film, television , radio, internet video drama, it’s all theatre, the absence of a proscenium, velvet curtains and a dress circle, does not alter the essence of script, actors, directors, and audience. Theatre is not arty farty, art is not a pussy cat sissy disease, or a wildly extravagant behaviour, it is the heart and soul of whatever is on the stage or the studio floor to be produced.
    More film companies, more directors and many many more producers need to get acquainted with this knowledge. All those Hollywood books that reveal the mysteries of the camera obscura, or the claw, the iris and the rotating shutter, or the language of film are only a tiny part of the story, theatre requires a commitment and a study and a little of your blood and a piece your soul, only then can you start working as a film maker or a television director, with a real feeling of artistic power.

    Just because Australia is younger than most other countries, because we had a penal and colonial beginning, just because we have a head of state who dwells in England, and the British Union flag in the top left corner of our nation’s flag, doesn’t mean that we either missed out, or are somehow excused from, the great universal human experience, we have hopes and dreams and fears and pride, we fall in love and we grieve for lost souls, we rage and hate and feel jealous, we laugh and we cry, and we bleed when we are pricked, just like any other group of human beings.

  6. Thank you Richard for a fantastic post in response to Hugo Weaving. Of course it’s theatre, all that’s holding back the passive , atomised consumption of the image, in real time about real people. But where is the money supporting small theatres outside of the big city Decimated by Brandis and the acceptance that money must be poured into opera, ballet, and theatre flagships.

  7. Hugo Weaving why not show more leadership?
    Why not create a movement for change? Why not stand up for the arts as integral to our success as a nation?
    Because you’re busy as a professional actor perhaps?
    As is everyone else.
    Maybe all actors should be required to promote Australian productions professionally as a requirement of a license for performance, say over a certain level of income? Like in other serious professions?

  8. What is Australian culture, or lack thereof? Is it an oxymoron? What is it that embodies the ideals of being Australian, when the many qualities of being one are universally upheld by other nations? The archetypal Australian values of egalitarianism, of “mateship” aren’t that so special. Australian pathetic immaturity as Hugo Weaving puts it is the placid state of a society that shrieks at the unconventional, absorbs an Anglican-educated conservatism and is ambivalent about progress and innovation. As a meta-culture, we place emphasis on others to do the “hard yakka” whilst others enjoy the spoils of another’s achievements. In a twentieth-first century Australia, there’s something so weirdly Edwardian about it, yet so discomforting to know that as one of the first countries to see the breath of a new day, we’ve come not that far. The Arts is sedate, its citizens with perpetual distain for public transport, and far worse, the media which is debauched itself from having kind of self-respecting semblance.

    1. Michael. If you despise Australia so much why don’t you do something of substance about it?

      You are drawing way too much out of Hugo Weavings comments in any case.
      Maybe your first world problems would find a better hearing elsewhere where facts are less valued.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *